Live’n’Local: Introducing Melanie Benn

Just part of the Rochester LitFest. Follow the links to find out more.
Susan Pope

Rochester Literature Festival

Melanie Benn

The delightful and inspiring Melanie is with us to unlock your memories, in the second of our Sunday workshops at Sun Pier House.

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Back to school – but such fun!

University of Kent Central campus Canterbury


I have just had the pleasure of attending a 2 day Summer School at the University of Kent on the main campus at Canterbury. My chosen topic, naturally enough, was Creative Writing. This was a wonderful opportunity for anyone – any age – to taste University life. Some delegates had only a little experience in creative writing while others were passionate about it, wanting to make it a full-time career.

The social side of the Summer School became just as important as the learning curve, in fact it was part of it. I travelled with others from the Medway Campus to Canterbury on a coach where the bonding process began. There were also delegates to the twin course of ‘Discover Research Skills’, aimed at Social Science students, but closely related to creative writing. Some students were attending for the second year, and had tasted both, others like me perhaps, deciding to perhaps try the twin course next year.

Our groups arrived and met with other delegates. We ate together, boarded in the same building, and enjoyed the same social-bonding event, tasting the delights of participating in real African drumming. We were indulged with the same privileges, and, it was a privilege to be allowed to use the University’s fine facilities, learn from the University excellent tutors, and be mentored by volunteer students also.

The tuition sessions, led by Lucy Rutter, were truly inspirational and by lunch time on the second day everyone in the group had enjoyed three full and varied tuition sessions, where we not only wrote freely from carefully structured prompts, but walked the campus’ own labyrinth, scoured the huge library for inspiring words and phrases from the literary masters and enjoyed Lucy’s cleverly devised prompts, to make us think creatively. Hence everyone had written a piece of prose or poetry based on the essence of all the sessions. One by one, we then each gave a performance of our work, with due applause.

The Labyrinth Canterbury Campus


The human brain is amazing. We had all been side by side, listening to the same tuition by the same tutor, yet every one of us had produced an entirely different piece of work. Each individual’s work was fresh, original, some outstandingly clever, and all very entertaining.

I came back home brimming with joy from this (for me) new experience. I hope it will gradually filter through into my writing, giving me a broader outlook.  I am overwhelmed by a feeling of deep gratitude for the opportunity this represented for me. It’s never too late to learn.

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Time as a Literary Device: Unpacking the Parallel Timeline

This writing scenario is very close to my heart right now.

Kristen Lamb's Blog

Image from "True Detective" Image from HBO’s “True Detective”

One reason we might be tempted to use a flashback is to explain or to expound to artificially prop up weak characterization or a weak plot (the training wheel flashback). This is what good editors will cut. Then there is the other way to use time and that is time as a literary device. This is when our going back in time is used intelligently to serve the forward momentum of the story.

Last time, we delved into the idea of a loop around (one form of flashback as a literary device). Sometimes we see a story that is smack in the action and then after the inciting incident the story shifts back in time until it catches up where we began then continues real-time.

I used the example of Christopher Moore’s Island of the Sequined Live Nun. This is looping back in time as a literary…

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The Treasure of Fathers (and Mothers)

My Father died in 1989 and my most vivid memory of him is from the 1950s. He had  just completed 22 years service in the Royal Marines and he spent some of his new found leisure time writing a crime novel. No PCs to make the process easy then. Every page was hand typed and when corrections were needed, all pahges were retyped with carbon copies. He tried to seek publication, but the new popular paper-back publishers were spoilt for choice, so Dad’s masterpiece was relegated to a bag in the back of his wardrobe. This bag came to me when his second wife died and I sorted out their former home.

Dad set his crime novel in the old Royal Marine Barracks at Chatham, called Chatham Grande. It closed its doors in 1950 just as Dad completed his service time, including throughout the Second World War.

In 2008 my own first novel was published and after that I self-published a book of short stories. It was a short step from that to deciding to edit and publish Dad’s novel. The self-publishing site is the ideal platform for this type of project. I was thrilled to add a wonderful archive photograph of the Royal Marine Band outside the gates of Chatham Grande to the cover. So Father’s Day is a good day to celebrate his belated success as a published novelist and his special writing genes, passed to me.

God Bless you Dad, and all Dads.

Book Cover Dad’s book Chatham Grande

If you would like to view or buy this book go to this link:

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I liked Cheri’s blog so much I’m happy to reblog on mine.

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Live’n’Local: Introducing Truda Thurai

If you’re local to Medway and like me, love historical fiction, make sure you are at Rochester Literature Festival.

Rochester Literature Festival


Continuing our history themed first day at the 2015 festival, we’re delighted to welcome Truda Thurai back to Rochester.

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I’ve said this before but …….

It’s worth my repeating this blog post as I’ve now sussed how to add a picture.


Pic by Airborne balloons.

Doh!  I’m furthest right front.

Lighter Than Air

I experienced Lighter Than Air flight for the first time from beautiful Leeds Castle in the heart of the Kent countryside, I enjoyed this fabulous experience courtesy of Airborne Balloon Flights. The evening was glorious, with only a light wind:

The balloon fabric is rolled out on the lawn facing the castle and moat and then filled with air until it forms a giant silken cocoon. It is then bombarded with heat from the gas torches and it begins to rise up from the lawn to an upright position. We are instructed to climb inside the giant wicker basket weighing it down like so many sacks of potatoes. The heating by the torches continues, but now straight up into the balloon.
We begin to rise, so smoothly and quickly it is as if we are stationary while the earth is falling away beneath us. Everything is shrinking as we see the world through the wrong end of a telescope.
I marvel at the three-dimensional display brought into view; from flat fields to a bird’s eye panorama of the Kent countryside. The majestic presence of ancient Leeds Castle marooned on its island by the surrounding lake takes centre stage, as if it had popped up from a book of wonderful fairy tales.
Below me is a scattered patchwork pattern of fields, coloured by crop or pasture in greens and golds, or the soft rainbow shades of wildflowers from fields in fallow. Church spires and rooftops stand on their heads while lanes meander joining the dotted hamlets and farms. On the ground, animals and people move in miniature and one person is insignificant.

Now I feel the sensation of being out of body, for I am weightless, suspended in the sky, defying gravity. It is far from deathly for I could not feel more alive than in this moment. Above is clear azure blue and the horizon encircles our tiny floating basket encompassing us. On every side it is stretching away, it would seem, to the ends of the earth.

If you would like to enjoy The Balloon Experience with Airborne Balloon Flights go to:

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Spirit of the Jaguar


This book has been a long time in the making. I have, over the last few months, redrafted my plot with what I hope, is a story with huge appeal to lovers of time-shift fiction. My two historical settings and their characters are now woven together, and eventually combine with a dramatic double conclusion.

I am delighted with the result.  Now Spirit of the Jaguar has moved on to publication and will be released this summer in paperback and ebook formats.

The main story is set between 1924 and 1931. Christina Freeman is a Debutante and the daughter of an English Lord. The connection to her past-life character Tlalli, is first established when Christina receives a gift of an ancient piece of Peruvian gold; a pendant in the shape of a jaguar. Without giving the plot away, this pendant had once belonged to Tlalli. Circumstances eventually lead Christina to South America. She becomes obsessed with following the Spirit of the Jaguar hoping to unravel Tlalli’s story.


Machu Picchu – The Sacred City

This is set in the Inca Empire at the time of the Spanish Conquest. We follow Tlalli Marina, the daughter of one of the Empire’s many tribal leaders. The horror and impact of the Spanish invasion, on a country which was largely self-sufficient in a challenging landscape, is seen through the eyes of this young girl. The story follows her as she is spiritually motivated by ancient Jaguar gods. Tlalli eventually becomes a rebel leader, desperately trying to hold back the treacherous injustices being wrought on her country and her people.
There is a host of colourful characters and settings in both stories. Villains, mythical gods, tribal legends, ardent lovers, treacherous enemies and good friends. Some of my characters were real people, others created to fulfil a special role within their own time slot in this dual story set the sixteenth and twentieth centuries.


Graf Zeppelin Airship

If you know my previous work, you may be wondering if there is an airship in this story. Well I’m pleased to tell you there is. The Hindenburg’s predecessor, the Graf Zeppelin, made many successful voyages to South America between 1928 and 1937. I could not resist the opportunity to include this glorious mode of travel. Besides, how else would an affluent young lady have travelled across the Atlantic Ocean in 1930 arriving in less than three days?

I hope to give more details on purchase links to Spirit of the Jaguar when these are available.

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Caveat Venditor—Five Mistakes KILLING Self-Published Authors

Kristen Lamb's Blog

Rise of the Machines Human Authors in a Digital World, social media authors, Kristen Lamb, WANA, Rise of the Machines

All right, it’s about to be a brand new year and many of you are wanting to finally see your books published. ROCK ON! But, I am the friend who will tell you if there is toilet paper hanging out of your pants. Writing isn’t all glitter and unicorns and I want to warn you of the most common stumbling blocks, because I really DO want you to succeed.

When I began writing I was SO SURE agents would be fighting over my manuscript. Yeah. But after almost fourteen years in the industry, a lot of bloody noses, and even more lessons in humility, I hope that these tips will help you.

Self-publishing is AWESOME, and it’s a better fit for certain personalities and even content (um, social media?), but we must be educated before we publish. In fact, my last book Rise of the Machines (cover above) is much…

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The Real Writing Community

The Book Launch Party is becoming a bit of a dinosaur in this modern digital age but it still has lots of appeal. And why not? If you have spent months, or even years, writing a novel or a work of non-fiction, why not throw a party and celebrate.

I have recently attended several book launch parties and there was much to celebrate. In November my local writing group Medway Mermaids published ‘Mermaid Tails’, an anthology of work by fifteen female authors from in and around Kent’s Medway Towns. We met with friends and families on a filthy Sunday when a year’s rain fell from the skies. Inside a local bar we enjoyed live music and readings from the book. The sense of community felt within our meetings became illuminated that day as we celebrated. The group have already sold over 100 copies and raised £130 for a local Dyslexia support charity. It is a modest achievement but the authors have achieved their main ambition to see their work in print.

We talk a lot about the writing community. On-line that can be worldwide and whilst the interaction is interesting it’s not very personal. Within a local community it can have a lot more meaning. This was very much the case when I attended the book launch of S L Russell’s latest work of fiction, ‘A Shed in a Cucumber Field’. In case you are wondering, the title is a quote from the bible. Ms. Russell writes Christian fiction. If you are new to this concept it’s not very different from other fiction. A human story with all the ups and downs in the characters lives but with the added interest of finding resolutions through Christian teachings. That night in the little Village Hall within her own community, the author was embraced by friends and neighbours who couldn’t wait to get their hands on her latest work of fiction, a story about warring sisters, human frailties, love and loss.

The next launch was for another anthology, this time by one author. Lin Tidy, author of ‘The Unsent Letter’, has led a rather unconventional life. She’s travelled a lot, has had many different lives, and even a spell in prison for contempt of court. (This story is told in ‘Warrior on the Wall’, a previous publication.) ‘The Unsent Letter’ contains stories, poems and memoir written by Lin throughout her life, reflecting her thoughts and memories. She is a superb writer but this work also means a lot to the people who know and love Lin, who came to celebrate publication of this book with her. Hence the writing community is again local, personal and very meaningful. Although the book would equally appeal to a wider audience.

My final local author (for now) is Liz Stead-Wright, with her first self-published work, ‘Amazing Women, Our Ancestresses’, a non-fiction book. You could call it a different approach to Ancestry hunting. She certainly did a lot of that and shares tips and information on how to approach your own Ancestry search. But she has gone beyond that, delving into the life styles, particularly of the women, from whom we are descended. Some fiction creeps in to better describe the lives of these women who lived long ago, without whom none of us would be here today. It is a brilliant book with a thoughtful theme. The local writing community, to which both Liz and I belong, are again ready to support her with help and advice as she begins her journey as a published author.

Self-publishing these books has given the authors control over their own work. They write because they have something to say. They say it in their own way with their own words. They are not being dictated to by an agent or a publisher, not to decry their role in producing excellent commercial fiction for mass readers. But niche books like these, written by excellent authors, would never be available unless the authors had the courage to by-pass traditional publishers, and self-publish their own work. The support of their own local writing community makes the journey worth celebrating.

Links to view and read excerpts from the books mentioned in this blog:

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